Spoiler alert: This is a rant! There is a time to call a spade a spade and it is here. I simply have to get this off my chest and, perhaps, it will resonate with more than the handful it deeply offends.
The article “On breaking with the faith” has been celebrated by many committed to the institutional church and a colleague in particular. What’s more is that in the immediate follow up “On keeping the faith” the author adds nothing. It’s the same old expected and “right thing to say”. And, curiously, is nothing different to what those de-converting and deconstructing and encouraging others to do the same are themselves doing.
But what irks me with an article, authors and colleagues like this is that they choose to fail to engage meaningfully with those deconstructionists who are not only de-converting themselves but also helping others to do so. It is an article so self/church-centered that it cannot engage with, listen to or dialogue with those it sees as “wandering off the path of faith for the arid wilderness of unbelief.” At the heart there is a false contrast between authentic faith as institutional Christianity and those deconstructing from such institutional commitments as leading themselves and others into “new beliefs”. At the root the problem I have with the article and my colleagues high admiration thereof is that it relies on the politics of agreement to fly under the radar as a prime example of the continuing failure of institutionalized Christians to listen to, dialogue with, understand and mutually respect those de-converting and deconstructing. People are not leaving Christianity for another faith but instead leaving a faith that is far off track that it believes it is what Christianity “is”. They’re leaving a faith that has gone astray and remains as arrogant as ever in refusing not only to acknowledge the concerns but in arguing that it remains the Catholic and Orthodox faith albeit as Evangelical Protestantism.
There is much concern among ministry professionals that people are leaving the Church and, if the stats are to be trusted, fewer than ever later return to the Church. For those who link the Ekklesia to the Church the membership and attendance of churches is linked. Here a link is maintained between ones relationship to God and the Church. And where there is a break between ones relationship with the Church there is an assumed break in ones relationship to God. This same logic carries over to dissatisfaction, frustration, hurt, disappointment, boredom, considerations of irrelevance, etc. If you feel any of those about the Church then you must be feeling those about God. And the remedy as provided by the Church is find another church for it is only in the receipt of the Word of God as Message and Eucharist in and through the Church that you are considered to be meeting with and receiving God.
There is, however, a rich heritage of church leavers going back to the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) back in the 3rd Century who withdrew from society and church to draw near to God. Over the centuries it is clear that church leavers have contributed enormously to others through seeking and finding God. And many, whether consider St Patrick (4th or 5th Century; think Celtic spirituality and its impact) or St Ignatius (1491-1556; think Contemplative Spirituality and its impact), went about searching for God as the very One who set them on their journey to begin with. Their spirituality is linked to that of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers). For them the relational presence of God was the key and their society and the Church both in desperate need of reform. Later individuals such as John Wesley (1703-1791) and Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) may not have left the Church and the link between the Church and society enabled them to make the Church their primary mission field but neither Methodism nor Presbyterianism are known for what they are known for. These later individuals also sought God as one who had already found them and set them upon their journey. What we must take from them is that, having first been found by God and later having found God, they looked to see others come to know God. Where did they find people most in need of God? Well within their churches. Continue reading →
Human beings live, work, and socialize with each other. We are inherently social individuals who may have our own private inner lives but who also need the company of and interaction with others. And when doing things together, and for the reciprocal benefit of ourselves and others, we prove to be mutually enriching, enabling, and contributive. It should not be surprising then that exercising and practicing spirituality is both a social and a relational endeavor rather than individualistic or self-centered.
Christians often contrast spirituality as self-centered and faith as Christ-centered, with the institutional expressions of Church demanding the sacrificial activity of going to a church, becoming an official member, and then volunteering and giving financially toward the work of the Church in service to God.
The problem I have with this contrast between spirituality and faith is that it’s a false dichotomy that isn’t being sufficiently critiqued. It also makes any questioning and critiquing of the institutional church synonymous with an offense against God. The truth is that we are not simply better together but instead only when mutually enriching each other through contributive participation. We need to question what the practice of our faith is, and the degree to which our religious institutions are enabling that practice or crippling it. And when seeking alternative gatherings, question whether we are simply changing the manner in which we organize our gathering or properly transitioning from gathering to meet about God to meeting with God.
Church, practiced as meeting only about God, may be likened to gathering for a meal where the guest of honor never pitches and where you may only ever or and eat a starter. On the menu may be a whole host of potential meals, but you don’t have access to them. Over time, a deep hunger grows within you and is coupled with a deeper frustration that something is amiss and disappointment that though you’re eating you are never truly able to get either full or nourished. But you are told to buy into the support the institution because it is the Church. You believe you are doing the right thing by doing so, perhaps even believing that you need to go to a Church in order to relate to God. But when do you meet with God? How do you meet with God during Church? How does Church enable and nurture a relational spirituality rooted in the immediate presence, voice and activity of God? Many attend and serve in Church for years and are quick to ask how we know we are hearing the voice of God or discerning God’s presence and activity. This is foundational stuff and evidence of the degree to which the Church may replace a relationship with God.
By doing church, many are doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Let’s meet differently for the purpose of meeting with God.
In the next post we’ll look at meeting with each other and the following post meeting with God.
Christianity has long maintained a detachment from the self and attachment to Christ as part of individuals maturing toward Christlikeness. However, as an institution, and not-for-profit business, the Church proves quite the opposite. It is as though attachment to Christ had become synonymous with attachment to the Church.
A commonly held and reinforced assumption is that following Christ of necessity, and through divine ordination, includes membership to the Church. This view originates from the pulpit, is reinforced at church conferences, and gets regurgitated during conversations. The whole goal of church appears geared toward getting visitors to become members and volunteers who turn bring others into Church. And the purpose of a calling from Christ, or in response to the pulpit, is understood overwhelming by churches to mean schooling people toward professional careers in ministry as related to planting, maintaining, and growing churches and, if we must, parachurch organizations.
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